Study finds positive drug tests on the rise

  • June 19th, 2015
  • Mandy Haynes
Study finds positive drug tests on the rise image
According to a recent report by The Wall Street Journal, the number of U.S. workers who tested positive for drugs has increased in recent years. This finding is based on data on workplace drug tests administered by Quest Diagnostics Inc., “one of the nation’s largest medical screening laboratories.” In 2014, traces of drugs, ranging from marijuana to prescription opiates, were found in 3.9% of the 9.1 million urine tests that were administered for employers by Quest Diagnostics. This figure shows a slight increase since 2013, when 3.7% of the urine tests showed drug traces. Although this increase is quite small, it is significant in that it marks the first time these numbers have shown an increase rather than a decrease in 24 years.

Drug use is also on the rise among the general population. According to a survey conducted in 2013 by the Department of Health and Human Services, “9.4% of Americans age 12 or older had used illicit drugs in the month before the survey interview was conducted, up from 9.2% in 20212 and 8.7% in 2011.” Although experts aren’t sure why we are seeing a rise in drug use, the recent legalization of marijuana in some states may be a contributing factor in the increase in drug use. In 2012, Colorado and Washington passed initiatives allowing the recreational use of marijuana. Since then, 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws “legalizing marijuana in some form.” Thus, not surprisingly, marijuana was the drug most commonly found in drug tests administered to workers. Other common drugs found in workplace drug tests include “amphetamines, oxycodones such as OxyContin, and benzodiazepines like Xanax.”

In response to the relaxation of laws regarding marijuana and the increase of illicit drug use, employers are becoming more proactive in administering drug tests to job applicants as part of their screening process. According to Jim Reidy, an attorney in the law firm Sheehan Phinney Bass and Green PA, employers in Colorado and Washington have adopted and/or expanded drug testing policies in recent years. Employers in other states are also expanding their drug testing processes. International Paper Co., a Memphis-based paper and packaging producer, for example, “plans to add opiate derivatives like hydrocodone and oxycodone to its list” when screening job applications for drugs. The company has even experimented with hair tests. Hair tests can be more effective in detecting drugs, as they can detect traces of drugs ingested as far as 90 days back, compared to only a few days or weeks when a urine test is used.

The findings by Quest Diagnostics indicate that the share of U.S. workers who test positive for drugs is on the rise, in addition to the share of illicit drug users among the general population. Thus, it is necessary for employers to respond to these trends by conducting drug tests. It is imperative that employers take a proactive approach in screening job applicants for drugs in order to avoid costs that may come with hiring drug users further down the road.

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